SUNDAY MAGAZINE

At home in an alien land

A helping hand: Lynda B. Crone

A helping hand: Lynda B. Crone   | Photo Credit: Photos: Rina Mukherji

RINA MUKHERJI

An NGO in Pattaya, Thailand, takes a few initial steps in understanding the emotional and psychological needs of men who live in an alien land and culture and providing a support system.

The first few males who trooped in did so out of curiosity. It was strange to find an elegant, urbane, sophisticated lady not just recognise the problems men faced in an alien country, but empathise with the same.

In a country where it is difficult to find more than a handful of articulate individuals to communicate passably in English, Pattaya is definitely very foreign. This coastal resort is a place where you can find restaurants serving American, German, Mexican as also Indian food. Farangs (white Europeans) throng the bars and massage parlours here, and cuddling is the norm on the streets.

It is quite passé to find very young Thai girls accompanying white men in their late fifties and sixties all over this beach resort. Younger men from the American air bases are always thronging the go-go bars that give Pattaya its unique identity. For any discerning visitor, it is not too difficult to realise that here is an entire city existing and thriving on sex trade.

Flourishing business

Many of the girls look underage, and are reported to be hailing from impoverished northeastern Thailand. But, given the fact that the sex business in Pattaya is a big money-spinner, one cannot discount the element of greed that spurs these women here. No wonder then, that there are a total of 250 bars, with over 4,000 women living off sex here.

Lynda B. Crone came to Pattaya two years ago from the United States. Her job as an English tutor with the Good Shepherd Sisters at the Fountain of Life Centre for Women brought her into contact with female sex workers who were trying to master English to earn a little more from the farangs. Talking to her students, Lynda realised that the white men who frequented these women even at the cost of getting looted at times certainly needed some help. Societal norms in Thailand being quite contrary to the inclinations of the Western mindset, a person born and brought up in the West found himself at sea here.

Since Pattaya had a very big expatriate community besides GIs and other servicemen who found themselves removed from familiar home surroundings for years at a stretch, Lynda felt a community of support for these men was most essential. This had her moot the idea of an organisation that would serve as a support for lonely men who found themselves devoid of friends and family in a strange place away from home. It was the germ that eventually grew into BUDDIE as it exists today.

Consultations with religious groups in the U.S. and Thailand convinced her about the feasibility of the project and was met with a lot of affirmation and support. The Redemptorist priests in Pattaya offered her the space to live in and conduct her meetings on a weekly basis at the Redemptorist Centre while an Irish couple came forth to develop the name and printed information for the project. Thus, it was in July 2006 that Lynda set up Building Understanding and Developing Dignity In Everyone (BUDDIE).

Lukewarm response

The initial response was one of scepticism. The first few males who trooped in did so out of curiosity. It was strange to find an elegant, urbane, sophisticated lady not just recognise the problems men faced in an alien country, but empathise with the same.

As word spread around, many others opted to spend time with BUDDIE and become part of a support group that could have them share their experiences in total confidence and seek out people who cared for them as friends. Talks at the Pattaya Expats Club publicised the venture further, with write-ups in the local press generating the necessary curiosity and enabling the formation of a small, close-knit group that regularly attended every meeting.

Men attending the BUDDIE meetings are a disparate lot. Scott Murray is an American pensioner who opted to settle down in Thailand, full as he was of memories of a beautiful and comparatively cheaper country he had visited a decade ago. However, once he arrived in Thailand, he found that it was not as cheap to live here as he had thought it would be. A persistent ailment made matters worse, with his wife deserting him. Loneliness saw him seek the company of women whom he may have otherwise never thought of. For him, BUDDIE meant a lot more than a support group. It meant socialising with people from back home who shared a common cultural and social background, and not feeling confused and ashamed of having sought the company of “party girls” at the numerous go-go bars that dot the Pattaya beachfront.

James Ellis is a person in the export business who has been in Thailand for some years now. The fact that he was away from home, family and friends had affected him badly. An alien culture where getting involved with a woman meant looking after her extended family baffled Ellis. Serious relationships always eluded him, leaving him lonely. Coming to BUDDIE has now earned him a support group, where he can freely discuss his problems, and learn something from the experiences of others. For the first time, he has come to terms with his bisexuality and ceased being a closet gay. What’s more, he has made friends too and has got close to an Italian guy living in his neighbourhood.

Every meeting is confidential and held in an environment of warmth and affectionate cordiality. This enables every member in the group to speak out and give vent to his innermost fears and problems. Issues are discussed threadbare and inputs from other members result in solutions automatically emerging out of the interface. The format of the meetings lends itself to discussion, and the above concerns become gradually interwoven into the exchange.

A beginning

BUDDIE is yet to dig itself in and grow into a mighty movement. But the fact remains that for the first time there has been a move to understand the emotional and psychological needs of men who have been compelled by choice or circumstance to seek their livelihood or make a beginning in an alien land, amid an alien culture.

One can only hope that Lynda’s multifarious background that combines a degree in financial management with a master’s in theology will make this unique project work.



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